Last year, I went on a fly-cruise with Princess Cruises, flying from Singapore to Seattle and setting off from the port for a 7-day cruise to tour the Alaskan seas, stopping at Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan in Alaska, America and Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada.
This post will be covering the shore excursion I went for in Juneau, Alaska. Juneau is the capital city of Alaska and is named after gold prospector Joe Juneau. It is the second largest city in the United States by area.
The city has a very sparse population of just 30,000+ people, which still is the second most populous city in Alaska after Anchorage. During the cruising season between May and September, the city’s daily population can increase by roughly 6,000 people.
Juneau is rather unusual among United States capitals in that there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or to the rest of North America (although ferry service is available for cars). The absence of a road network is due to the extremely rugged terrain surrounding the city. This in turn makes Juneau a de-facto island city in terms of transportation, since all goods coming in and out must go by plane or boat, in spite of the city being located on the Alaskan mainland.
Hence one of the best way to visit this city is really on a cruise!
Downtown Juneau sits at sea level, with tides averaging 5 metres, below steep mountains about 1,100 to 1,200 metres high. Atop these mountains is the Juneau Icefield, a large ice mass from which about 30 glaciers flow; two of these, the Mendenhall Glacier and the Lemon Creek Glacier, are visible from the local road system. The Mendenhall glacier has been gradually retreating; its front face is declining both in width and height. Nonetheless, it is still a magnificent sight and we visited the Mendenhall Glacier during our shore excursion with Princess Cruises:
We also went on a whale watching ride on a smaller ship so that we can get closer to the whales. Whales sighting is guaranteed and we did spot several whales during the ride. For those who get seasick easily, be prepared with your seasick pills as the waters can get really rough and choppy, depending on the weather conditions. Also, make sure your clothes are waterproof as you can get splashed on the deck. Food and drinks are available for order in a small shop on the ship.
On shore, there are several small shops, watering holes and restaurants peppered near the port at Juneau, largely catered for tourists:
A highly recommended visit is the Mt Juneau Trading Post, a locally-owned, Alaska Native family business which has been in operations since 1967. They specialises in Alaska Native art and jewelry, offering a mix of eclectic and unique stuff from preserved animal bones, taxidermy works to used bullets and hunting tools:
From the activities we covered, I would recommend a visit to scenic Mendenhall Glacier and shopping at the port area for the shore excursion. The whale watching, while interesting, is not necessarily the best use of limited shore time as you can get to watch the whales from the decks of the Crown Princess and in much more comfortable conditions.
Instead, you may want to consider other tour options like biking, taking a sled dog ride or even salmon fishing.
Stay tuned for my next post on Skagway, the next port of call after Juneau.